Chapter 8 of 19
Like every morning, having started the day with Yoga and overjoyed with the activities of the previous day and also of the fact that we had done our bit to get acclimatise with the high-altitude, we checked out of the Kaza-guesthouse after consuming a heavenly breakfast. The plan was to visit the ancient Ki monastery, take the road to reach Kibber, said to be the highest inhabited village in the world and take the narrow link-road to reach Kiato. However, after a mandatory re-check that I conducted with the help of a local taxi-driver at Ki monastery, the plan warranted a change. This was due to the bad condition of the bridge connecting the Kibber and Chicham village over the Parilungbi Canyon. Now we had to turn all the way back after Kibber and reach Losar taking the usual road passing through village Rangrik located on the right bank of the Spiti just next to Kaza. This however meant an additional 30 km almost.
Driving on the true left bank of the river, past the iron-bridge that goes to the opposite bank, we steadily climbed on a neatly tarred narrow road to reach Ki village. The attractively perched ancient monastery of Ki, on a rocky hillock just above the village, was visible from the road itself. Within no time we reached the gompa and I was not surprised to see it thronged by both foreigners and domestic tourists. Both were found to be equally eager to photographically-capture various viewpoints the monastic life of Gelugpa sect had to offer. But the perspective appeared to be making a difference which was apparent.
Foreigners observed and captured whatever angle the place offered. Ours posed and asked the monks, without any knowledge of their internal hierarchy, to model either with them or depict the essential elements of their routine life such as prayer wheel, robes, tea cups, performing daily chores, etc. The view from the terrace was splendid including that of the colourful formations in the river basin courtesy the Spiti River meandering through various channels. Observing and without bothering about other visitors, I quickly wrapped up my activities at the monastery and continued with our climb to Kibber village. One of the most important learning centres for Buddhists in India, Ki monastery is house to over 400 monks, rare thangkas and artefacts including olden music instruments.
The tarred but potholed road to Kibber climbed in a series of easy hairpin bends and loops. Like most valley roads, this one was narrow too and was etched on a vertical face of rock. The village Chicham was visible across the other side of the deep canyon. Claimed to be the “highest inhabited village in the world connected by a motorable road and with a voting ballot”, Kibber (4210m) is a friendly village comprising stone-built-houses, with typical dusty contracted paths, located on a picturesque topography. Although lacking the market-comforts of Kaza, Kibber is any day a better place to put up than Kaza. Situated just at the village entrance, Norling Guesthouse is the place to stay and offers good food as well.
I took a few photographs of the landscape from the village entrance, visited the village gompa – Yaktin Chuling – and subsequently asked for ginger tea at the guesthouse. The highlight of the landscape included the majestic Kanamo peak, pasture country, deep gorge, Chicham village, etc. Sipping the hot tea, we began to dissect the claim of Kibber being the “highest inhabited village in the world connected by a motorable road and with a voting ballot”. Having visited Langza the previous day, much higher in altitude as well as connected with a road, half the claim was clearly off beam. Not only Langza but the nearby village Gette (above 4350m) also enjoys road-connectivity. As regard the issue of voting ballot, almost every village in the country today enjoys such a provision at home. As I wrote this blog, situated above 4400m on a ridge connecting Langza and Komic, village Hikkim was officially declared the highest polling station in the state registering a record 81.14 poll percentage in the recently concluded state assembly elections 2012. So wonder why the tourist-agencies still sell this claim!
The answer possibly lies in the definition of “inhabited”. With over 350 people staying, the village is provided with a school, post office, civil dispensary and some other departments by the government.
Keeping an eye on a bearded vulture gliding high in the sky, I left the spot but ended up rekindling the desire of possessing a 600mm. Soon we were on our way to village Rangrik (3730m) through the same road. Visible from Ki, Rangrik looked like a tiny patch painted green on an uninhabited river-basin walled by high mountains. Circumambulating the long mani wall, as per the tradition, past the bridge across the river, we reached Rangrik in less than an hour.
The weather after Rangrik started revealing its cloudiness, bit by bit, for the rest of the trip. Until now what we came across was the bluest sky that we could imagine. Passing through the settlements of village Sumling (3790m), Sherab Choeling monastery at Morang, Hull (3890m) as well as the Gyundi nala, we climbed to reach Pangmo (3950m) where it started drizzling albeit a light one. This windswept upper valley region Tud of Spiti is the least populated of the four regions – Sham, Bhar, Pin and Tud.
Even though we reached Pangmo by 1400hrs, the drizzle made us rethink about our plans to cross the mighty Kunzum La, later in the evening, where weather can get real nasty at times. A typical Spiti afternoon included headwinds, growing in velocity as the day progressed, and sunrays piercing into the skin. The valley receives very little rain round the year and monsoon spells are mostly dry. We didn’t want to take any risk and planned to call it a day at village Losar still a couple of hours away.
With dark clouds sluggishly making their way into the dry valley, the fabulous landscape at Pangmo encompassed every shade of nature. Past the Chomo monastery, the road scrolled through poplars, pea and potato fields to enter the yellow-coloured moonscape of hoodoos and ascended over loops to cross the other bank of the river and reach village Kiato (3960m). A little further the village Hansa stretched out in the cultivated fields amidst poplars. The village housed quite a few tin-roofed administrative structures as well as a few shops, dhabas, etc.
Intermittently descending and ascending to cross a few nallahs, the road to village Losar (4110m) followed the Spiti in an expansive glacial valley. Just before the village, the road crossed the Spiti River to reach its right bank as well as the Dongrimo nala or Suvita Lungpa. The last and final village of the Spiti valley towards the Kunzum La, Losar houses a couple of guesthouses, just a few shops, mud-brick houses painted white, etc. It is even possible to score the Chhang from the guesthouses of this village situated amongst cultivated fields, streams and poplars. Approaching from Hansa, the location of the village made for an extraordinary landscape.
Without taking into account the government-run rest-houses, the places in the Spiti valley where a night halt could be easily negotiated included Sumdo, Tabo, Shichling, Dankhar, Kaza, Rangrik, Ki, Kibber, Pangmo monastery, Losar, etc.
View and read more on the region at the Lahaul & Spiti Photoset on Flickr
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